Protesters arrested in clashes with police ahead of anti-government rally at Knesset

Brothers in Arms activists accused of planning to set vehicles alight on Route 1; Shikma Bressler leads convoy from Caesarea, says government must go for sake of nation’s survival

Members of Brothers in Arms protest for early elections and for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, on Route 1, outside of Jerusalem on May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of Brothers in Arms protest for early elections and for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, on Route 1, outside of Jerusalem on May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police and anti-government demonstrators clashed on the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway on Monday morning as activists across the country kicked off a “day of disruption” to mark the start of the Knesset’s summer assembly after a recess that became controversial in wartime.

Monday’s protests will largely focus on calls for the government to resign and hold early elections amid the its failure to bring home the hostages captured by Hamas on October 7 and disagreements over Haredi conscription legislation.

Demonstrators were also rallying over the predicament of the tens of thousands of residents from the north and the south who remain displaced due to attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas, almost eight months on, with no indication as to when they’ll be able to return home.

In anticipation of the main demonstration of the day, which is scheduled to begin outside the Knesset in Jerusalem at 5 p.m., vehicle convoys departed for the capital on Monday morning from points across Israel, including from Caesarea, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home is located.

The convoys merged en route before starting to arrive in Jerusalem at around 2 p.m.

The Brothers in Arms protest group, one of the many anti-government organizations participating in Monday’s demonstrations, said that 13 of its members had been detained after an altercation with the police following an attempt to block traffic near the Sha’ar Hagai Junction on Route 1, which serves as the main artery between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“This morning, our activists arrived at Sha’ar Hagai, on the mythical road where convoys broke through on the way to Jerusalem,” Brothers in Arms said regarding the clashes, referring to the fierce battles during the 1948 War of Independence when Arab forces blockaded the route.

The activists “stood on the sidelines holding pictures of the hostages and Israeli flags,” the group said. “The activists came with huge signs that carry a clear message: The legacy of the government of destruction will be remembered forever.”

A member of Brothers in Arms argues with a police officer amid an altercation on Route 1 during a planned “day of disruption” by anti-government protesters, May 20, 2024. (Adar Eyal / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

“This is the legacy of the government of destruction,” the statement continued. “Hostages in hell, burned homes and vehicles, abandonment of the residents of the north, time-wasting with the [Haredi conscription] evasion law, and political games at the expense of our forces.

“It is time for the public to rise up and for the government of destruction to disappear.”

Following the altercation on Route 1, the police said that the detained protesters may have been planning to set vehicles on fire to create a long-lasting shutdown of the main road, and released pictures of tires, jerrycans filled with gasoline, planks and rags that they said they found in one of the vehicles of those involved.

Brothers in Arms denied the allegation and, in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, accused the police of lying and of carrying out arrests without evidence.

“The Israel Police has become an executive political tool of an extremist government,” it said. “We will continue with a determined and nonviolent protest to return the mandate to the people. We call on the public to join us until the Knesset is dissolved.”

Members of Brothers in Arms protest for early elections and for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, on Route 1, outside of Jerusalem on May 20, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The protests were expected to represent a diverse range of voices with many of the anti-government groups that emerged in recent years expected to take part, as well as groups formed following the October 7 Hamas terror onslaught in southern Israel and subsequent war in Gaza.

Among the groups participating are Restart Israel, founded to combat the planned judicial overhaul last year; The Change Generation, founded in the aftermath of October 7; Lohamei Kippur, founded by veterans of the 1973 Yom Kippur War; and Women Wage Peace, co-founded in 2014 by Vivian Silver, who was killed by Hamas on October 7.

Before departing for Jerusalem as part of the vehicle convoy, leading anti-judicial overhaul and anti-government protester Shikma Bressler delivered a call to action in Caesarea.

“Today we are doing our utmost, because we understand that in order for this country to continue to exist, this government must go,” she said, holding up an Israeli flag with a yellow ribbon for the hostages tied underneath.

Protest leader Shikma Bressler speaks in Caesarea at the start of a national “day of disruption,” in protest of the government, May 20, 2024. (Reuven G.Sz / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

“Our nation has shown many times throughout history, certainly in the last year and a half, that when we work for the common good, when we know and believe in each other and in the righteousness of the path, there’s not a single thing in the world that can stop us,” she said.

In order to ensure that the protest outside the Knesset does not spill over its pre-approved boundaries, hundreds of police officers have been deployed to the area, Channel 12 news reported. However, additional unauthorized demonstrations are expected to crop up regardless, including a planned march from the Knesset to the Prime Minister’s Residence on Azza Street on Monday evening.

Yaakov Godo, whose son Tom Godo was killed by Hamas terrorists on Kibbutz Kissufim in the early hours of October 8 as the IDF fought to regain control, was scheduled to speak on the main stage outside the Knesset on Monday afternoon.

He was to be followed by Ayala Metzger, the daughter-in-law of elderly Hamas hostage Yoram Metzger, and by Yom Kippur War veteran Eyal Yaffe.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: